This Place is a Crucible

Today.

Huh. I sat down to write, here in front of the fire, strange it is almost winter, still in my pajamas, and the first word was – without thinking – “Today.”

It has been a few days – over a week? – since I have sat down to do this, though I have thought about it everyday…writing.

I have been doing some projects in my home, re-arranging and organizing, getting rid of things, painting rooms, moving beds. That is what I have been doing during the times I might usually write.

I am pretty sure that, ultimately, making improvements in the functionality of my environment will support my writing more than whatever I might have written during those hours this past week or so.

I have been making brief notes on a voice recorder on the drive to work, which is usually when I think about writing and things I’d like to write about, things that feel important to remember. I haven’t listened to any of them, but I try to speak slowly and clearly, but honestly and without too much thought. 

It is a good exercise, this speaking in the car. 

For most of the day, everyday, there is thinking about writing occurring alongside all my other conscious thoughts. Definitely there are moments, even long languid stretches, when I am not thinking about writing, when I am fully and immediately present. 

Conversations, the look someone’s mouth as they speak, the architecture of the ear, the sound of the voice…the images and scenes they describe, how they show up in mind. 

I have to remind myself that what I picture when someone is telling me something about their life -their home, people they love, fathers and mothers, grandmothers and children, brothers and sisters, and people who have hurt them, their rooms and the places they live…that I am not seeing their life, that I do not know if the room is as dark as I picture it. 

I have to remind myself that I do not know the look on their father’s face, or if they sat hunched or crumpled, as they listened to this person they love say those things, hurtful and sweet and dying. Or what they felt or thought when they looked out across a view of mountains, of yards, as they walked along the road by the airport, woke up alone.

I do not know what color their kitchen is painted, or if their rooms are filled with boxes and piles, or are clean with everything put away. 

There are so many drab and plastic, miserably-lit, places in the world, so many tiny windows. 

As I am writing this, with the back of my legs getting too warm in front of the fire, a brief memory and picturing of sitting in front of the small gas heater-stove that sat to the right of my great-grandmother’s dining room door, if one was walking from the kitchen to the living room, angled to the left if one were coming down the stairs. Open grate, short blue flames right out in the open. I could’ve touched them if I’d wanted to.

Sitting, in the winter, even if it was warm outside, which it was sometimes, even in the winter, right in front of that heater-stove, on the edge of the bottom stair, until the front of my legs were blazing hot and beginning to turn pink, the whisper-sound of my hands smoothing away the burn, again and again. 

Grown-ups talking off to my left, thick plumes of smoke from my Granddaddy sitting on the couch. 

…as I am sitting here, I was thinking about how my thinking-about-writing interacts with and relates to my walking-talking and interacting self, my social self. 

Last night, talking with a friend about personal histories and the formation of social justice awareness growing up in the American South, because – sometimes – that’s what girls like me talk about on a Friday night.

I was asked a question, which caught me off guard because it was so direct and so wide…”When did you first start getting interested in, or aware of, social justice?”

A basketball game played duplicate on televisions hard-mounted on old brick. Almost every person at the bar was a man, and had a pizza in front of them, a half-eaten burger between the man in flannel beside the man in flannel, talking to the pretty barkeep about running up mountains. 

I thought, in response to the question, the social justice prompt, a moment of awareness that sowed dissonance, resistance, a sense of deep wanting to amend the way things are, and to understand why things are the way they are. I knew the moment, have known the moment for a longtime, and so many other moments that built upon it, positioning themselves as things I will never forget, small incidences and utterances that changed the way I saw and understood both “the world” (everything occurring physically external to me) and “myself” (my internal experience of existing). 

Formative lessons in all the isms and how they intersect with eachother and with me. 

I thought about two pieces of writing, mentions of the boy whose name was Felipio, segments of posts on a weblog (this weblog) and an email I sent to myself the other day, in response to some thinking and feeling about a conversation I wanted to have with a friend, about race and class in America, because that’s the sort of thing I want to have conversations with my friends about, because that’s how I know if they can be real-friends or just people that I know and hold limited boundaries of involvement with.  

Here is the email I sent to myself: 

To tell you my life story, 

I’d have to crawl under that low table, 

And tuck myself into a ball 

Or lay down down flat

My belly on the nubbed-down carpet

Smelling the smells of dirt and school

Damp sneakers 

Old glue 

Watching small hands fidget in laps

Rising and falling from tabletop to chair 

Elbows and swinging feet,

Feet hooked round the legs of chairs

Scuffing on the floor, rolling toes 

***

The girl picked at the seam 

Running down the leg of her jeans

Her dog jeans

Embroidery on the back pocket 

Her favorite pair 

The only pants she would wear 

Around her there was a thick buzz of sound and light, and she felt tired

Voices droning, a thin window in the corner 

The green grass between school buildings, 

The hard look of brick. 

Nothing at home was made of brick 

Except the bottom part of her great-grandmother’s house

And the old fallen chimneys from the old house 

That was never theirs 

Her father took the wood from that house 

All that was not rotted 

Just left the chimneys 

Two figures in the woods 

***

The boy beside her felt quiet 

Still and cool in the yellow white light 

The cinder block room 

His eyelashes curled up silky and black

The mouth of a butterfly

His skin was the color of the garden 

The color of the river bank 

His right hand was resting on the edge of the table 

Thumb feeling out the line from top to side, 

The formic seam

some pages in front of him

Flat and silent 

The teachers voice made a layer in the air

Heavy over the room of round tables 

His hand dropped to the edge of the chair, 

Under the table, into the shade

Felt along the hard plastic yellow 

Leaned forward, held to the silvery leg 

She felt something in her 

A pull, that crawling toward 

Bold and animal 

But nervous 

A nervous animal 

Her hand was still under the table 

Only a foot away 

From his hand 

She was surprised by how easy it was 

To reach out and touch his hand, 

How easily their hands held together,

Familiar clasp, palm across palm, 

Tips of the fingers folding toward the back of the hand

His hand was hot and dry 

Like the dock railing in the summertime.

She had never felt such comfort. 

—–end of email—

I did not get to the end of the story, the part where the teacher approached us from behind, knelt down and plucked our hands up, still holding together, pulled them apart and set them firmly on the dead surface of the table, two muffled thwacks. 

I did not get to the part about her voice, and how she stood over us, speaking to us, but also to the class, scolding my friend and making me feel ashamed and sad and angry and confused. 

“You will not hold hands with little white girls.” 

There is writing about that, somewhere in here. 

I told my friend about it, and about the highschool I went to, but not all of the high-schools, not the boarding school or the alternative schools. Just the high-school I dropped out, with its white supremacy and general ugliness. 

This morning, I am considering why it was that I ended, or began the ending of that email with my own comfort in holding that hand. 

Sometimes I over-think things. 

“…ya think?”

There is more to say, and so much that has happened, so much that is pivotal. 

I saw the moon. I have a new room. It is a new color, called Skylight Blue. 

I have been writing by hand more lately, aside from the usual just-writing-on-board-at-work and making quick note of brief information. 

In an effort to condense long things that I would like to say to someone into a single text message, I write a note on a piece of paper, and send it as a photo. 

I don’t know why more people don’t do this. 

Sometimes, my messages to a friend with whom I have recently been discussing, in the course of conversation, the ethics of friendship take a turn toward impromptu assemblages, art. 

It is a nice way to communicate with someone, probably my preferred mode. 

I don’t fit well within the font of text message. 

Sometimes these small black words do not convey what I want to convey. 

Is there really anything to say?

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